An Interview with Tommy McCutchon

By · Date 09/15/2016

Unseen Worlds, the label behind the new compilation of Carl Stone’s work, has a history of working with unusual composers and performers such as Laurie Spiegel, Philip Corner, Elodie Lauten, Girma Yifrashewa, and Lubomyr Melnyk, to name a few. I asked Tommy McCutchon a few questions about the label and working with Stone.

VAN: Why Carl Stone? I know you’ve worked with him in the past. How does Stone fit with the mission of Unseen Worlds?

Tommy McCutchon: Unseen Worlds has a very strict set of guiding practices for operating that I try not to waver from, but sometimes do evolve. At first, Unseen Worlds releases were strictly reissues and I had a long list of works that fit a combination of these elements: unreleased in a digital format, under-appreciated and not highly-sought-after collector’s items, and music that didn’t transport a listener’s imagination elsewhere but expanded their awareness of the present. Carl’s “Woo Lae Oak” was on that original list and I am fortunate and thankful that I had the opportunity to work with him on that. I also always loved these other works by Carl, and many of them did already exist in digital form. “Shing Kee,” “Sukothai,” “Dong Il Jang,” and “Shibucho” were all kind of in official/unofficial bootleg status on the internet for some years through Carl Stone’s website, due to the raw nature of their compositional style. Carl initially brought me “Kuk Il Kwan,” an archival recording from The Kitchen in 1981, for consideration and I of course agreed that it would be perfect for us. It captures the raw early style of Carl perfectly and yet is also highly sophisticated and delicate in its long form. From there, the collection just started to evolve. All in all, the conversations for this release lasted a total of eight years until we reached this point. “LIM” and “Chao Praya” surfaced from Carl’s archives, as well, and the other digital releases we also felt needed a proper re-introduction and release. I’m open to bending the rules I set for myself with the artists that meet my original criteria. It just makes sense to be flexible in order to do the best project possible.

The design of the new compilation is an obvious reference to the great Deutsche Gramophon’s Avantgarde series in the late 1960s and 1970s. Bold colors and strong geometric shapes were hallmarks of that style. Why reference this series in the design of the new compilation?

Carl’s music-making career and process have so much to do with recorded music and his deep appreciation and experiences with records like the DG Avantgarde series. He specifically requested that we imitate that style, perhaps even replicate it exactly, in the design, which is my interpretation of the DG covers. I am really happy with the way the cover came out. I rely on the wishes of the artists to know which direction to take the releases in every aspect.

Why a triple LP set instead of a CD set? Unseen Worlds has released both formats in the past. Do you have a preference for one format over the other for physical releases? Does it just come down to issues of runtimes and economics?

The LP set was a priority for this release. Carl really wanted it to happen. It’s possible we could do a CD for it, as well, if the need is there, but right now the priority is the LP set. I’m not a big fan of large LP sets in general, and so I definitely watched for it to not seem like overly much. Each side is an individual piece, with the exception of the two “Buchla” pieces. Rashad Becker really knows how to fit the long tracks onto a single side without losing detail and actually achieving the presence of vinyl that people aim for when pressing to it. So, I think that the collection works especially well as an LP set and we want people to get it that way. It is also super important to me that people have access to the music available digitally. I do have another CD release forthcoming this year, which will not have an LP component, so there’s still room for them, I feel. ¶

Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties” is released on September 30.